Review Summary: Accessible instrumental rock that's criminally unknown.
I really wish Bandcamp were set up better. Sure, there's a ton of good music on the site, and there have been a ton of good bands that gained the recognition they deserved thanks to the cheap promotion the site provides. However, as is true with basically anything which provides a platform for some form of free expression, a large percentage of material on the site is bad. Sturgeon's Law, created by science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon, summarizes the flaw quite nicely: "ninety percent of everything is crap." While this flaw doesn't necessarily apply to Bandcamp alone, it's exacerbated by the fact that the site has no real ratings system. Unlike other music sites like iTunes or Amazon, there's no ratings system, no easy-to-use "featuring" other than the top 20 albums list or the poorly-set-up "Discover" tab. As a result, most of the great music on Bandcamp gets hidden behind shoddily-produced and uninventive "crap" which on the whole tends to be either too pretentious for its own good, uninteresting, or just bad.
Solterra are a prime example of a group on Bandcamp who don't earn the kudos they should. In an instrumental rock world that's difficult for people not already acquainted with the genre to enter, Solterra keep a precarious, difficult-to-uphold balance between accessibility, inventiveness and quality. Unlike a lot of post- and instrumental rock today, Soul » Earth » Sun feels like more of an attempt at obtaining a more varied following than just the select group of people who can swoon over every subtle layer of distortion in the average Swans song. This point is most obviously and immediately supported by the lengths of each song: the longest song on the album clocks in at under six minutes, and many tracks are shorter than three and a half minutes. And, yes, at times the track lengths hurt the album. Six-plus-minute buildups don't appear, though as much as that might anger certain genre fans the lack of such sections isn't a major problem on the release. However, some of the songs do feel too short. For example, just as "Grass Roots" seems to get under way, it ends abruptly. For the most part, though, the tracks feel like they're long enough. For this casual fan of the genre, at least, it's great to hear the variety on Soul » Earth » Sun, and the shorter ideas found on the album aid greatly in its immediate appeal. The tempo changes, alternation between flamenco and shredding guitar, and beautifully cymbal-oriented drums - all in under four minutes - on "Spanish Beaches" demonstrate the accessibility well, and are a testament to the talented songwriting here.
Easily the best part of the album is the final third. From the low, menacing power chords and a lead guitar sounding like it's straight out of the '90s on "Sold To Wolves" to the progged-out soloing that closes "Affluenza," the last four songs are a fantastic way to close out an excellent album. It's a good sampling of the release as a whole: there's a lot of distortion, but never too much. There's some clean guitar, but not enough to ruin the feel of the ambitious instrumentation. "Twisted" is a great example of a song which helps the album stick together: the soloing is excellent but not masturbatory, the disconcerting drums provide a solid foundation for the guitars, and the quick rhythm changes keep the tune interesting. Really, though, the best thing about the last third or so of the album is that it fits into the structure of Soul » Earth » Sun as a whole - a cohesive unit whose positives far outweigh its downsides. Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, Solterra haven't attracted the attention this release should have caused. They're a band who will obtain much of their future fans through word of mouth rather than a lackluster Bandcamp setup that favors the already-famous over up-and-coming groups. Whatever attention Solterra do receive, though, is well-deserved - their music is absolutely worthwhile.
Really good review, man. A problem with Bandcamp that's always grinded my gears, sigh... It's a good idea to bring a rating system to Bandcamp, or at least a way to bump albums.
I found quite a few minor things in this one. Whether it be unnecessary words or vague phrasing, hopefully my pointers will help you out for the future. It's harder to write about genres with which you're unfamiliar, and that does show here. It definitely shows in mine, when I step outside of the box too much haha. And it isn't something to worry about much, because you did a stellar job at describing music you don't normally acquaint yourself with.
Here ya go:
"which on the whole tends to be either too pretentious or overblown for its own good, uninteresting and drab, or just bad."
You could leave out the second descriptors in each phrase, since they don't bring anything too new to the table.
"Solterra are a prime example of a group on Bandcamp who doesn't earn the kudos they should."
Good sentence, but the pronouns at the end conflict. "Doesn't" denotes the band as a singular, while "they," well, denotes plural.
"Soul » Earth » Sun feels like more of an attempt at obtaining a more varied following than just the select group of people who can swoon over every subtle layer of distortion in the average Swans song."
I get what you're saying here, but it's a little unnecessary to go into this much detail. Well-written, but extraneous.
"the longest song on the album clocks in at under six minutes, and any tracks are shorter than three and a half minutes."
The almost-6-minute song is still shorter than 3 1/2 minutes? I think you just left a word out here.
"However, some of the songs do indeed feel too short. For example, just as "Grass Roots" seems to get under way, it ends suddenly and abruptly."
Extraneous descriptors again. I'd take out one of the final descriptors, and "indeed" in the beginning.
"Unfortunately, as I alluded to in my first paragraph, Solterra haven't attracted the attention this release should have caused."
You don't mention this in the first paragraph, although you do touch on how groups in general easily get overlooked on the site.
Overall, the biggest problem is the first paragraph. It's written very well, but it doesn't quite connect to the album like it should, you know? Maybe if you took out some of the more off-track ramblings towards its end to connect it sooner, it would be more effective.
Very nice job overall. You handle unfamiliar territory exceptionally well, sire!